I thought this was going to be a waste of time: How portfolio construction can support student learning from project-based experiences

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Jennifer Turns
Elisabeth Cuddihy
Zhiwei Guan


In this work, we sought to understand ways that students experienced a small-scale portfolio assignment provided to them as an opportunity reflect on their experiences in a project-based class. This work was motivated by research in various instructional contexts showing that portfolio construction results in important learning outcomes. We wanted to see if such findings would extend to project-based learning situations in engineering. In addition, our research was motivated by the need to better understand specific portfolio assignments in terms of the effort required of students, the extent and ways in which students value such assignments, and how student overall experiences differ in terms of learning, effort, and value. To address these issues, we interviewed thirteen students who had completed a portfolio assignment as a culminating activity for a project-based manufacturing class. We selected these students because their individual responses to a screening survey suggested that they had had very different experiences with the portfolio assignment. We then conducted open-ended interviews with the students in order to better understand their experiences. In this paper, we show how the themes of epistemically different, manageably effortful, and ultimately valuable can be used to understand three ways of experiencing the assignment (as a significant experience, a muted experience, and a limited experience). This work provides practical information to educators interested in supporting reflection while also contributing the scholarship on how portfolios support learning from experience.

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